Homeless charity chief looks back at how Boston has changed during his 11 years at the helm

John Marshall in the food store at Centrepoint Outreach homeless charity

John Marshall in the food store at Centrepoint Outreach homeless charity

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A dedicated charity worker who has helped thousands of homeless, penniless and jobless people in Boston is to step down after 11 years.

John Marshall has announced he is to retire as chief executive officer of Centrepoint Outreach at the end of this month.

The ex-policeman, who spent 30 years with the force before retiring, took on the role at the homeless charity the very next day.

In those 11 years thousands have received food, clothing, bedding, furniture and help to find a home through the charity.

This period saw the demand for help from the charity’s centre, in Tunnard Street, rise from about 4,000 contacts a year to a whopping 12,000.

This is said to be down to two factors – the dramatic increase in the population here and the effects of the economic recession.

But while John says it is ‘with sadness’ that he ends his role when so many more people are homeless and in need of help – he leaves with the confidence that the charity can rise to new challenges.

“None of us should ever think these things could not happen to us,” said John. “I have met educated people who had everything, reduced to having nothing. Employment can disappear overnight, debts mount, relationships suffer and I have witnessed it happen to people from all walks of life and ages, even pensioners. Homelessness and then substance misuse can so easily follow.”

Speaking about the early days of his role 11 years ago, he said: “Then many clients were indigenous Bostonians living chaotic lives, lacking critical life skills and unable to stay in employment or manage their money, and a number of migrants from Portugal.

“Now the numbers have been swelled by the influx from Eastern Europe and Bostonians hit by the economic situation.”

He said he is expecting even more demand when welfare reform begins to hit home.

“The current clients predominantly from Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and the UK, share something in common with the Portuguese we were helping 11 years ago. This is the difficulties associated with job promises not materialising and being in a country without language skills, no access to benefits and little or no money to pay for life’s essentials, including a roof over their head.”

Assistance offered has varied from tea and sympathy to officiating at a funeral service for a Polish man who died on the street, hundreds of miles from home, penniless, homeless and without any relatives to make arrangements for a dignified send-off.

Over the years John has felt rewarded by those who have been helped to turn their lives around and have come by to simply say thank you, or, in a few cases, do what they can to help others in the same situations they once found themselves in.

They have included a builder working near the centre who popped in to make a donation after receiving help to get back on his feet.

“It is so rewarding to hear from clients who have got out of their difficulties and have a home and work and are managing their lives,” said John.

“Not all visitors to the drop-in centre come in search of help. For many it’s a friendly place where they feel safe and are assured of a listening ear, a cuppa and a bun.

“But we always try to ensure cases of need are genuine.”

John, who was born in Wyberton and educated in Kirton, plans to carry on with voluntary work with suicide awareness training for the NHS and work for the Bible distribution charity, Gideons International. He also runs eight community websites.

FACTFILE

Centrepoint Outreach was formed 20 years ago and is a stand-alone Boston-based charity whose main source of funding is from its own charity shop.

It also currently receives grant funding from Boston Borough Council, The Lloyds TSB Foundation, The Medlock Trust and the Evan Cornish Foundation.

There are four full-time staff, five part-timers, 35 volunteers and about 60 members or associate members of the charity.

The charity keeps a food stock, donated by businesses, individuals and schools, along with clothing, furniture and bedding.

It cannot provide a home for the homeless, but works with housing providers to find available shelters.

Rough sleepers can pick up a sleeping bag, blankets, hot water bottles and a hot drink in a flask for their nights outdoors. They can use washing and shower facilities at the drop-in centre.

During freezing temperatures, staff direct rough sleepers to a night shelter at the nearby Centenary Methodist chapel.

‘Contacts’ counted are the number of times someone has visited or called the charity for help. This can include repeat visit by the same individuals.